Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 7/17/98
It's a Wonderful
1946 (1998) - Liberty
Films / R.K.O. (Republic)
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
An enduring and heartwarming classic, it ranks easily among the
best American films of all time. If I could only save one film, this
would be my sentimental choice.
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/B/A
Truly stunning B&W image quality and generally very good mono
audio. A pair of solid featurettes and a theatrical trailer are
Overall Rating: A+
This classic film has NEVER looked better. A must for every film
fan, young and old alike - treat yourself and enjoy!
132 mins, not rated, full frame (1.33:1 - original aspect ratio), B&W,
dual-sided, Amaray keep case packaging, documentaries: The
Making of It's A Wonderful Life and A
Personal Remembrance, theatrical trailer, THX certified,
film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages:
English, French and Spanish (DD 1.0), subtitles: French and Spanish,
Both Jimmy Stewart and director Frank Capra have called It's
a Wonderful Life their best work, and it's hard to argue
the point. Stewart, in his first acting role after returning from
World War II (he was a pilot in the Army Air Force) gives the
performance of a lifetime as George Bailey, the likable everyman who
yearns to leave his small town behind, to see the world and make his
As fate would have it, of course, events conspire to keep George in
tiny Bedford Falls, where he must bear the seemingly thankless task
of keeping the family business (a tiny Building and Loan) afloat
after the death of his father. To make matters worse, the greedy Mr.
Potter (actor Lionel Barrymore as the local miser and Grinch) will
stop at nothing to put the Building and Loan out of business, as
part of his bid to own everything in town. But George has the love,
strength and inspiration of his childhood sweetheart Mary Hatch
(Donna Reed) to help him endure, not to mention a true rogue's
gallery of friends and family. And in his darkest hour, a lowly,
second-class guardian angel named Clarence is there to show George
the true value of his life.
Few filmmakers have been as prolific as Frank Capra in terms of
exploring the human condition. Ever idealistic, Capra endowed all
his films (like Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington, You Can't Take it
With You, and It Happened One
Night) with a somewhat simplistic sense of hope and
optimism, leading some to criticize his work. But that same optimism
has helped to ensure that few filmmakers' work has been as enduing
as Capra's. And no film is more exemplary of his ideals than It's
a Wonderful Life.
The film boasts a terrific cast, from leads Stewart and Reed, right
down to the supporting players (all top-flight character actors in
their day). Few actors have breathed life into a character as vile
and universally derided as Barrymore's Mr. Potter. Henry Travers and
Thomas Mitchell are both wonderful as Clarence and Uncle Billy. But
it's Ward Bond and Frank Faylen that I enjoy most, in their comical
roles as the original Bert and Ernie.
It's hard to believe now, but It's a
Wonderful Life was largely unsuccessful when first
released in 1946. Moviegoers then found it took dark and depressing
to embrace. It was not until the film's copyright expired in the
70's that it finally found a wide audience. TV stations around the
country were suddenly able to air the film without charge, and air
it they did, particularly around the holidays. The rest, of course,
is film history.
As a student of that history, and as a major film buff, one of the
greatest pleasures I've found in DVD, is in rediscovering the
rarely-seen original quality of classic films. Like most of you,
I've previously only seen It's a
Wonderful Life on late-night TV during the holidays, or
(at best) on a fair quality VHS tape. So when I eagerly slipped this
disc in my player, I was absolutely floored by the picture. It is,
in a word, gorgeous. The folks at Republic have gone back and
digitally re-mastered this DVD from the original film negative, and
it really shows. There are very few scratches to be seen, which is
surprising for a film this old. The sharpness and contrast present
in the image is really striking. Best of all, you'll find no
edited-down or colorized version here - this is director Capra's
original and uncut version.
The audio is nearly as good, particularly for mono. The sound
clarity is almost always excellent, although there is a very brief
period of time (in Chapter 5, running from 12:45 to about 14:00)
where the audio has a slightly muffled quality. This is, however, a
very minor flaw, and the only one I noticed on the disc.
The presentation of this DVD is terrific, starting with the very
appearance of the packaging. The Republic Silver Screen Classics
series DVDs, of which this is one, all have a snazzy-looking
metallic silver foil insert, making them really jump out at you on
the store shelf. Once you start Side A (which contains the actual
film), the first thing you see is a splash screen featuring the
film's title and the signature image of Stewart and Reed. A jaunty
fanfare of "Buffalo Girl" plays briefly in the background.
Then the splash screen disappears, replaced by the THX logo. Yes,
this disc has been THX certified for superior picture and sound
quality - the next nice touch. There's also background music playing
behind the main menu screen. The English subtitles are actually
captioned, and indicate which character is speaking in addition to
displaying the dialogue.
Flip the disc over to Side B, and all the extras are available.
There's an original theatrical trailer to be found here, and two
nifty documentaries. The first, The
Making of It's A Wonderful Life, features interviews with
both the late Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra. Narrated by Tom Bosley
of Happy Days fame, it reveals
some fascinating insights about the history of the film, and the
effort to bring it to the screen. For example: did you know that the
love-scorned kid who opens the gym floor in the dance scene
(eventually dropping George and Mary into the pool underneath) was
played by Carl Switzer... Alfalfa of Our
Gang fame? The other featurette, A
Personal Remembrance, is a fitting tribute to director
Capra by his son, Frank Capra, Jr..
The film itself is presented in it's original full frame format. It
runs 132 minutes, and the two featurettes together run about an
additional 40 minutes (which the package mislabels 28 minutes - not
sure what happened there). There are language tracks in English,
French and Spanish, along with French and Spanish subtitles and
English captions. The film has 28 chapters (there are no chapters in
Bravo Republic! It's a Wonderful Life
has never looked better than it does on this DVD. As soon as you can
get yourself a copy... get yourself a copy! It's a terrific value as
DVDs go, and a real treat to watch. "I wish I had a million
dollars!" Ah, forget the million... I'll take It's
a Wonderful Life on DVD any day. "Hot Dog!"